Football is finally here for the Mountaineers -- and the Chanticleers -- with the 3:30 p.m. kickoff Saturday at Mountaineer Field. And after watching Versus stumble through that broadcast of the Pitt-Utah game last night, it will be nice to see a college game, in person, for the first time this season.
Which brings me to this: If you are one of the 60,000 or so who will be joining me in that stadium, here are five things to pay attention to Saturday afternoon:
1. It is your time now: Yes, Geno Smith, the training wheels come off when you run out of that helmet with smoke shooting from it just before 3:30 p.m. This is your team, your time -- you better like it. This isn't emergency duty against Marshall or Florida State; this is you knowing you are the starter against Coastal Carolina from the time that Gator Bowl ended last season. There is, quite honestly, a different responsibility that comes with being the starting quarterback at a BCS school than one you had last year when you were one snap away. How Smith plays, particularly early against Coastal Carolina is something to watch for --- heck, just his body language and command of his teammate is something to definitely pay attention to.
2. Nice only gets you so far, Billy: Bill Stewart is, without any question, one of the top five nicest humans I have ever interacted with. The guy is genuine, sincere and, well --- just very nice. A solid and noble quality, indeed, in many endeavors one wishes to undertake; and it has its place in certain aspects of the responsibilities of a head football coach. But, here's the thing: It might be time to not play nice against Coastal Carolina, even though Chanticleers coach David Bennett is a good friend of Stewart's. What I am getting at is this: If given the opportunity, you hang 49 or 52 points on this team; you just do it and not think twice -- you step on their face and press as hard as you can. Scoring 35 or 38 and beating them by 30 points counts the same in the win column, but to the season ticket holder who drove in from Buckhannon or Paden City, tailgated all day and then sat in Section 127 and screamed until they can't talk, they want to see West Virginia return to where they annihilate teams like this. Seems to me, Stewart understand the need to keep the foot on the gas at all times this season -- so pay attention to how he handles that aspect in this one if given the chance.
3. Ask me about kickoffs (and punts): Keep an eye on one guy in particular, sophomore Corey Smith, who wears No. 44. As it is right now, he is listed as the top kickoff guy on the depth chart and also fighting for the punting job with senior Greg Pugnetti -- the two will both punt in the game against Coastal Carolina. Everyone knows how atrocious the kickoff coverage was last season and, without any doubt, it must get better if WVU wants to contend for a conference crown. With all that said, pay attention to Smith in this game, as, from what I have seen of him, he could cure the kickoff woes, he has the ability to bang the ball deep. In my estimation, he is a better punter than Pugnetti and will won that job, but pay special attention to when No. 44 trots out there, as this is a definite audition for him as much as anyone on the team.
4. What's up with Brad Starks? Is Brad Starks a guy who will have a deep impact on this team as it moves forward, or is he a person who will be left behind by younger receivers who supplant him and turn him into as much a factor as, well, Wes Lyons was? Here's the deal (and something to pay attention to) in the game against Coastal: Starks was once thought to be a mainstay at receiver, a guy who was a leader of sorts with that group along with Jock Sanders. Starks still could be. But, it is fair to ask whether Starks is beginning to be passed up by some of the younger talent. Although Starks is nursing a bit of a groin injury, it will still be intriguing to see if Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey, J.D. Woods and Ivan McCartney -- all guys who are younger than Starks -- become people more apt to get the ball thrown at them in big situations than Starks.
5. Who is the man after the man? The backup quarterback situation has been, well, intriguing -- complete with a bout of homesickness. It will be something to see, against Coastal Carolina, if Stewart has the opportunity, how the rotation will go after Geno Smith. In the drills that I saw, it seemed a no-brainer; seemed to me that Barry Brunetti was about a million miles (or maybe the distance from Morgantown to Kountze, Texas, at least) ahead of Jeremy Johnson for the second spot. If it gets to the point where the Mountaineers get up comfortably, it will be interesting to see how the snaps are divided.